By Lee Tae-hoon
A flock of presidential aspirants will begin to hit their stride this year with efforts to woo public support as the next presidential election, slated for December 2012, draws closer, political pundits say.
In an apparent bid to take part in the presidential quest, Rep. Park Geun-hye of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) has launched a think tank, the Institute for the Nation’s Future, and has shown signs of ditching her strategy to keep a low-profile.
On Monday, she embarked on a three-day trip to her constituency in Daegu to attend major religious ceremonies and other events in the southeastern town.
This marked the first time in three years for her to stay overnight at her political home turf.
Former GNP Chairwoman Park is comfortably leading the presidential race with a support rate of 33.5 percent, trailed by former Health and Welfare Minister Rhyu Si-min with 6.3 percent and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon with 5.9 percent, according a poll by the Hankook Ilbo, sister paper of The Korea Times, Friday.
Other big name politicians, who are in the top tier of a list of potential presidential candidates, have also begun to signal their intentions to campaign for the 2012 presidential election.
Sources say Chung Mong-joon, a former GNP chairman and vice president of FIFA, plans to revamp his image as an expert in diplomacy and security with a strong interest in the welfare of the low and middle income families.
They say Chung is scheduled to visit a special forces unit and the George E. Doty Memorial Hospital, a charity medical center in Seoul, this month.
He also plans to meet such internationally-renowned scholars as Michael Sandel and Guy Sorman, and sports stars including golfer Choi Kyung-ju, to maintain a high profile.
Former Minister Rhyu, who is currently heading a think tank of the People’s Participation Party, is planning to hold a series of forums over welfare related issues to garner public support.
Seoul Mayor Oh and Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-su, who came in third and fourth in the latest popularity poll, will likely refrain from revealing their presidential ambitions early in the year to avoid a possible backlash over the conflict of interest with their current posts.
As for the opposition block, Sohn Hak-kyu, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), will likely join the pre-heated presidential quest and is expected to make public his party’s policy vision on Jan. 10 which marks his 100th day in office.
Under the slogan of “Grand Journey for Hope,” Sohn started a 100-day nationwide tour with the aim of hearing “the voices of the voiceless” through town hall meetings and personal interaction with people from all walks of life.
He has recently reactivated a think-tank called, East Asia Future Foundation, which would formulate his policy agenda.
Pundits say other political bigwigs of the DP, such as former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young and former DP Chairman Chung Sye-kyun may also make bold moves this year to consolidate their support base.
Lee Hoi-chang, chairman of the Liberty Forward Party, plans to steal the spotlight Thursday by unveiling his party’s stance on pending issues, such as constitutional amendments and unification costs, in a press conference.
The two-time former presidential candidate for the GNP has been enjoying soaring popularity, largely thanks to his conservative remarks over national security following North Korea’s sinking of a warship in March last year and an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010. He was ranked sixth in the latest poll with a support rate of 4.3 percent.